Saving Faith


Saving Faith

July 18th, 1982 @ 8:15 AM

Romans 4:1-5

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
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Saving Faith

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Romans 4:1 – 5

7-18-82   8:15 a.m.


And God bless the great host of you who are here in the sanctuary this morning hour and the multitudes who are listening with us on radio.  This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled Saving Faith.  These sermons in this series and in this section are on soteriology, on salvation.  Two Sundays ago, the words, the Two Words of Salvation.  Last Sunday, True Repentance, and this Lord’s Day, on Saving Faith.

Our Scripture reading and background is Romans chapter 4, the first five verses.  Romans 4:1-5: 


What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?  For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.  For what saith the Scripture?  Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.  Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.  But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.


If a man can save himself by his good works, by his good deeds, by his own self-amelioration, then his salvation is a debt owed him from God.  That’s what Paul meant when he said in verse 4 "to him that worketh," who does good, who saves himself, the reward that he has won is not of grace, it’s not a gift, it’s a debt; God owes it [Romans 4:4].  He has done it himself.  He has remade himself.  He comes before God dressed in his own robes of righteousness.  He takes responsibility personally for his own destiny and the judgment that is yet to come.  And he presents before God his self-worth, his holiness and purity.  And he demands, rightfully so, his salvation from the hands of God.  He has bought it with his good works.  He deserves it because of his good deeds.  And his salvation then becomes a debt that God owes him.

That’s all well and good, if a man can boast of his self-righteousness, and his holiness, and his purity.  But the apostle is avowing that there has to be some other way if a man is to be saved beside his boasting of his own righteousness. And he uses Abraham as an illustration [Romans 4:1-5], the number one great saint of God that Paul could name, the "Friend of God" [James 2:23] he is described as.  He is the father of the faithful [Galatians 3:6-7].  He is the father of many nations [Genesis 17:4].  And Paul says of Abraham, the greatest of all the saints he could name, "If Abraham were justified by his good deeds, by his holiness, by his works, then he hath whereof to glory" – "Look at me!  See what I have done!" – "But," Paul says, "not before God" [Romans 4:2]. 

He couldn’t boast before God, he couldn’t glory before God, because God knew him.  In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Genesis, you have the story of Abraham lying to Pharaoh about his wife, Sarah [Genesis 20:2].  In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, you have the story of Abraham going into Hagar, a slave girl, an Egyptian, and Ishmael, the father of all of the Islamic Arabian world was born  [Genesis 16:1-4, 15].

Four chapters later, you have the story of Abraham lying to Abimelech again about Sarah his wife [Genesis 20:2].  Abraham, if he is justified by works, he has whereof to glory [Romans 4:2].  "Look at me!  See what I’ve done!  I have gained my own salvation."  But he couldn’t say that.  He couldn’t boast of that.  He couldn’t glory about that before God [Romans 4:2].  God knew him.  Therefore, the apostle says, God had to work out some other way if we are to be saved; something aside from, and over and beyond our own holiness, and our own purity, and our own good works  [Romans 4:5]. 

Then he points out, in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis in verse 6, that Abraham believed God, he trusted in God, and his faith was counted for righteousness  [Genesis 15:6].  Abraham was saved because of the grace and the mercy of God when Abraham trusted God for it.  As he writes in this fourth chapter,

Abraham staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God and not to himself.  And being fully persuaded that what He had promised he was able to perform.  Therefore, it was imputed to him, it was reckoned to him, for righteousness [Romans 4:20-22].  For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should say, "I did it."

[Ephesians 2:8-9]


It is a reward; it is a debt that God owes to me  [Romans 4:4].  And what we have found in the life of Abraham, we find in our own lives.  Who can stand before God, the holy God, and say, "In my own self-development, and in my own self-character, in my own good deeds and self-righteousness, I am worthy to be numbered among those who stand in the presence of the great, Almighty Creator of heaven and earth, in whose eyes even the angels are not pure?" [Job 15:15]. God demands perfection.  And if I am to be saved, I must be perfect.  How then can I come before God in my imperfection and hope to be saved in myself? 

God says, "The soul that sins shall die" [Ezekiel 18:4-20], and "The wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23].  And if I sin, I die.  James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, in his book James 2:10 says, "If a man keeps the whole law and offends in one point, he is guilty of all of it."  As though a chandelier hung down by a chain, you don’t have to break every link in the chain for the chandelier to fall, just break one link and it crashes to the ground.  So with our lives; we can keep every commandment and every law, but if we sin one time we have broken the purity and the perfection that God demands.  Then what?

How can we be saved?  There is an inevitable weakness in all of us that is admitted and undeniable.  I went to a strong man one time who was crushed by a tragic providence in his life.  And I spoke to him about God, and about the Lord, and about Jesus, and about our Savior, and pled and prayed with the man to find strength and refuge in our Lord.  He replied to me, "I have strength in myself. I will work it out.  I can take it.  I don’t need God, and I don’t need Christ, and I don’t need the church.  I can face this in my own strength."  He finally turned to drink, and finally turned to suicide.

No man, however strong he may be, is equal to the contingencies, and the probabilities – all of the providences of life that end finally in death and the judgment to come.  Seeing therefore that we, all of us alike, Abraham and all of the children, seeing we are alike sinners and undone and unable [Romans 3:23], God in His mercy and in His grace provided a way for our salvation  [Ephesians 2:8-9].  And the apostle avows that the basis of that atoning grace is in the love and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ:


For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly, For scarcely for a righteous man will one die.  Yet, for a good man some might even dare to die.  But God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 

[Romans 5:6-8]


"Then, being enemies and reconciled to God by the death of His Son, how much more shall we be saved in His life" [Romans 5:10], in His resurrected, intercessory life in heaven [Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25], "we who have received from Him the atonement for our sins?" [Romans 5:11] 

The basis upon which God forgives us is the atoning grace that we find in our blessed Lord Jesus Christ [1 John 2:2].  We are saved not by our Lord and something else.  Not saved by our Lord and my tears, or my Lord and my mourning, or my Lord and my good works, or my Lord and my baptism, or my Lord and my Sabbath keeping, or my Lord and anything else.  We are saved by Jesus, Jesus alone [Acts 4:12].

A man could pray all of his life and die lost.  In the sixth chapter of the First Gospel, of the Gospel of Matthew, our Lord described men, they were Pharisees, who loved to stand on the street corners and blow a trumpet, that all might see him pray [Matthew 6:2, 5].  In that same gospel, there is described a Pharisee who stands by himself in the temple and prays to God and recounts his good deeds before the Lord.  Our Savior said, in that same temple, not even daring to lift up his head to God, was a sinner, a publican, who beat upon his breasts saying, "Have mercy upon me."  "Which one of them," said Jesus, "went down to his house justified?" [Luke 18:10-14].

The Pharisees were not only lost, they committed the unpardonable sin [Matthew 12:24, 28,31], yet they prayed and observed holy ordinances all the days of their lives.  Nor are we saved by the excellence of our works and of our character.  Our Lord said to Nicodemus, who was a ruler among his people, a member of the Sanhedrin, our Lord said to Nicodemus, "Except ye be born again – anothen, from above, anew – you cannot enter the kingdom of God" [John 3:1-3].  And in the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts, the Lord said to Cornelius, "All of your good works, they have come up before God.  But send down to Joppa for one Simon Peter in the house of a tanner, and he will come and tell thee words whereby thou and thy house may be saved" [Acts 10:2-6].

We are saved on the basis of the atoning grace and mercy of Jesus and that alone [Titus 3:5].  The very fact that a man depends upon the atoning work of Christ and good works shows that he has not fully depended upon the Lord Christ.  I have not committed my money to the bank if I still hold it.  I have not committed a letter to the post office if I keep it in my hand.  I have not committed my life to the pilot and the plane until I get in and sit down.  I have not committed my life to Christ until I cast myself at His dear feet, "Lord, here I am.  If I perish, I perish here.  If I die, I die here.  I have given my soul and my life in faith and in trust to Thee."

What do you think will happen?  John 6:37, "He that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out."  Why is it that God should choose the faith way for our salvation?  There are several answers from God’s Book and from human experience that are very evident.  Number one: there is no other way, there is no other possible way by which we might be saved, other than in the grace and mercy of our dear Lord [Acts 4:12] .  If I am to be saved by my good works, by the holiness of my life, what of the past?  What of the sins I have already committed?  How do I go back and undo those transgressions, iniquities in heart, in imagination?  Falling short of the glory of God since accountability [Romans 3:23].  If I am to be saved by the holiness of my own life, what shall I do of the past? 

And what shall I do as I face the future?  How is it that I can somehow, ever, bring myself to believe that I could live from this moment on without sin?  If I proposed to be saved in my own goodness and my own righteousness, I face a life of fear and dread and terror.  I could find no rest. 

Paul described it when he said, "There is in the law of my members another law working.  What I would do I do not do, and what I do not do I ought to do."  Then, he concluded, "Oh, wretched man that I am!  Who shall deliver me from this body of death?" [Romans 7:19-24]. There is no other way possible for me to be saved, except by the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ [Ephesians 2:8-9].

Why this faith way of salvation?  Number two: there is no other way by which assurance and security might be given to me.  If my salvation depends upon my works, how could I ever be assured that I have done them adequately and correctly?  How could I ever be assured that I had mourned properly?  That I had cried and wept enough?  That I had repented perfectly?  That I was really and truly sincere enough?  How could I ever be assured that I’d measured up to what God expected of me if I am to be saved in my own goodness and my own righteousness?

I cannot help but recall the life of Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, at Wittenberg, seeking to save himself by his own righteousness.  He would fast until they would find him in a swoon, fainting.  He would beat himself in flagellations until the blood poured off of his body.  Finally in desperation he made a trip to Rome seeking comfort and assurance for his soul in the pilgrimage to Rome.  And while there, climbing up on his knees, the Scala Santa, there came to his heart that marvellous passage that’s the text of the Book of Galatians, "The just shall live by faith!" [Galatians 3:11].  Not by flagellations, not by rites and rituals and ceremonies, not by law-keeping, not by self-righteousness, but the just shall live by trust, by faith, by committing himself to the mercy of God.

He stood up, walked back down the steps and back to Germany and the Reformation was on.  How am I to appear before God with any assurance of my acceptance in His sight?  I can only do it on the basis of the love and grace and mercy of our Lord.  And He does not fail.  And He can never change.  My salvation is not in me; it is in Him.  When I look at me, I am filled with disappointment and trepidation; when I look at Him, I find assurance and strength and security.  Our salvation is never subjective in us; it is objective in Him: the ark of our safety [Genesis 7:23], the blood of the Passover [Exodus 12:5-7, 13; 1 Corinthians 5:7], the serpent raised in the wilderness to whom I may look and live [John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:8-9].

Why this faith way of salvation?  Not only because I can be saved no other way; not only because of its assurance and security.  But it presents the true, beautiful, marvellous character of God; God in His graciousness, in His mercy, in His saviorhood.  The first and second chapters of Genesis present the Lord God as a mighty Creator.  He spoke the universes into existence.  He flung these planets into space.  He created the mountains and the seas and the stars of the sky.  Great almighty Creator! [Genesis 1:1-2:25].

But the third and the fourth chapters of Genesis present God as a loving Savior and a gracious Redeemer [Genesis 3:1-4:25].  And after the fall of a man [Genesis 3:1-6], in His seeking, searching love, God bids us, "Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters. . .yea, come, buy without money and without price" [Isaiah 55:1].  God’s mercy and grace are revealed to us in the reward of our salvation by our trust and faith in Him [Ephesians 2:8-9].

Last: why this faith way of salvation?  Because it is fitted for us poor sinners, all of us.  The faith way of salvation – casting ourselves upon the mercy and grace of God, trusting in Him, leaning upon Him, looking to Him, depending upon Him, believing on Him – the faith way of salvation opens the door for the vilest among us.  I can point you to a man in our congregation – he once was as filthy as someone who lived in the gutter; dirty, under sentence by the law, and in the penitentiary.  And the grace of God, by faith, lifted him up.  Look at him now: he is clean, and fine, and saved, and a soulwinner in our midst.  That is the grace of God fitted for the vilest among us. 

It is fitted for the most unlearned.  I don’t think I ever listened to a sermon that moved me more than one delivered by an unlearned, uneducated, Kentucky mountain preacher.  He had been saved as a grown man and baptized in the middle years of his life, felt called of God to preach.  And I was there in the country church in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, listening to that uneducated man preach.  He could not read! 

He spoke on Psalm 104:24, "O Lord, how manifold are Thy works!  In wisdom has Thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches."  And he spoke as a mountaineer would.  How God had made the mountains to break the hurricanes of the sea.  How God had made the trees to grow to provide lumber for their houses, and coffins in which they could be buried.  How God made the streams to flow to bring water to a thirsting heart.  As I listened to that man, my heart was moved.  Yes, he couldn’t read!  Faith fixed the salvation for the most uneducated, untaught, and unlearned.  They can look and live [Numbers 21:8-9, John 3:14-15], just believe and be saved [Acts 16:30-31].

It’s an open door for the most hopeless and the most helpless.  There is no more poignant incident in the life of our Lord than when He was nailed to the tree and the dying thief by His side turned and said, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom" [Luke 23;42].  The most hopeless and the most helpless, the faith way opens the door for him; "Today," said our Lord, "thou shalt be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:43]. 

It’s an open door for the most worldly.  Some of the men and women who help me mightily in this work were one time out in the world, giving themselves to worldly pleasures, to endless social functions and parties; life without meaning and without purpose.  Now in the grace of God they’ve been wonderfully saved, and they use their fortunes and their lives and their testimonies to praise the blessedness of the Lord Jesus who reached down and lifted them up.

The faith way of salvation is fitted for us all.  I can draw a circle around each one of you.  And I can say on the authority of the inspired, infallible, unchanging Word and promise of God, in that circle, where you are, just as you are, you can be saved.  Not another thing, not a ritual to be observed, not a baptism to be baptised in, not a word or a deed to say or to do, right where you are, in that circle where you’re seated, you can be saved.

"Well, how pastor?"  By opening your heart to the Lord Jesus.  "Lord, here I am.  In Thy blood wash all of my sins away [Revelation 1:5].  In Thy mercy and grace write my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27].  Stand by me, walk with me, in the pilgrimage of this life, and be my friend and Savior at the great judgment bar of Almighty God."

You can be saved right where you are.  "Lord, I open my heart to Thee.  I open my soul to Thee.  I open my life to Thee, and this day by faith I decide for Thee."  And that’s it.  With the heart one believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth, confession says "I have taken Him as my Lord and my Savior" [Romans 10:9-10].

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy does He save us [Titus 3:5].  O Lord!  What a precious thing, a wonderful thing, a soul-saving thing You have done for us in Jesus our Savior! [Ephesians 2:4-9].

May we stand together?

Our Lord in heaven, if our salvation depended upon us, how full of fear and trepidation and anxiety would we be!  But, oh! what a comfort to know that our salvation lies in the ableness, in the love and mercy, in the unchanging Christ.  And how beautiful God has done for us when He says, "Believe and be saved [Acts 16:30-31].   Look and live [Numbers 21:8-9, john 3:14-15].  Trust and be born again" [John 3:3, 16-18].  Something God does for us. 

And in this moment, as our people pray, would you make that decision now in your heart?  A family: "This is God’s time for us and we’re coming, pastor."  A couple you, a one somebody you, make the decision now in your heart and when we sing that song, if you’re in the balcony, down that stairway, in the throng on this lower floor, down this aisle, "Pastor, we have decided for Christ, and here we stand."

And our Lord, thank Thee for this sweet harvest You give us this holy and sacred moment, in Thy dear and saving name, amen.  While we sing: come, and welcome.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell




I.          Salvation as a debt(Romans 4:4)

A.  Man
comes before God dressed in his own righteousness, a self-created character,
and offers his own good works

B.  He
has earned salvation and God owes it to him


II.         Salvation as a gift of grace (Romans 4:4-5, 16)

A.  We
are helpless before the requirements of God

Abraham might boast before us, but couldn’t boast before Godwho knew his
weaknesses (Genesis 12, 16, 20)

Abraham was saved in the grace and mercy of the Lord, mediated to him by his
trust in God(Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:20-22)

B.  God
demands perfection – if we transgress once we have broken that perfection(James 2:10, Ezekiel 18:20, Romans 6:23)

No man can be saved by the achievement of his own good works

Strong man in our city faced crushing providence and refused help of God or the
church – finally gave himself to drink and suicide

C.  We
are saved by grace through faith(Ephesians

1.  Grace
is grounded in the atoning love and merit of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:6-9)

Galatians written in response to Judaizers who said you have to be saved by
keeping the law

D.  Evident
in the Scriptures

1.  A
man can pray all his life and die lost – Pharisees who blow trumpets that
others might see them pray(Matthew 6, Luke 18:10-14)

Good men who appeared before the Lord and His apostles who still needed to be

Nicodemus(John 3)

Cornelius (Acts 10)

E.  Saved
by Jesus alone

The fact a man would trust Jesus and something else shows he has never fully
committed himself to Jesus(John 6:37)


III.        Why God chose this faith way of

A.  There
is no other way we can be saved

There is no other way that I might have assurance and security of my salvation

1.  Martin
Luther on the steps of the Scala Santa (Habakkuk

Looking to self to find forgiveness of sins, holiness and purity results in
despair and futility

3.  Looking
to Jesus we find strength, comfort

There is no other way God could show Himself merciful and gracious(Genesis 1-4)

It is the only way any one of us can enter the kingdom

It is an open door to the uneducated and unlearned

Kentucky mountain preacher

It is an open door for the hopeless and helpless

Thief on the cross next to Jesus (Luke 23:43)

It is an open door for the affluent and the worldly

H.  It
is an open door for each one of us(John 1:11-12)